Or at least it used to be.
I’m going to get a little Ron Manager here, for which I apologise. You see the big day in London has nothing to do with Boris’ victory and ‘non-taxpayer funded libation’ as he so wonderfully put it. Today is FA Cup Final day.
When I were a lad, the build up would start the weekend before the big match, come the day of the game itself the sense of anticipation would be almost tangible. If you weren’t a football fan it was probably unbearable. If you were a football fan it was equally as unbearable as it was so bloody exciting. The biggest game of the season, the set piece of the whole calendar, nothing came close to the Cup Final.
Today, even as a football fan, you wouldn’t know it was on.
It used to be carried by both the BBC and ITV, Channel 4 would show an old war movie (bugger you women who don’t like the football, get back in the kitchen and make some snacks). Whilst it was manifestly bloody stupid having two channels showing the same event, both would hype the match up to the max. Now only ITV show it, and there’s been no promotion at all. Not a dickie bird.
It’s half ten as I write this. The build up on the day would start around 9, 9:30 in the morning. A reporter outside each team hotel, giving us the run down on what they had for breakfast (the teams, not the reporters), which teams in previous years had used the same hotels and how they’d fared. Then you’d have the taped interviews with the manager, the grizzled old senior pro who’d been there before but always come up short, would this be his big year? The rookie who’d exploded onto the scene with the goal away to Villa in the fifth round third replay (remember those?) has he been touched by the hand of the Cup Final God, destined to cement his place in the annals of greatness?
Then you’d get the review of the entire competition, set to wittily chosen music; the amazing scenes as Arsechester Mechanics of the North Western Combined Counties League division two knock out Huddersfield Town on a bog of a pitch as a group of the town’s youngsters go mad in celebration and even the granite jawed old men smoking pipes raise their glasses and dab at damp eyes with a hankie, kidding on in the living room as the footage is shown again that it was cold. The sad moment as the great old pro is shown to have lost his legs, or the reverse as the old warhorse rolls back the years to show he’s still got it in a squeaker of a match against West Ham. You’d see the wonderful pictures of the guy who has cut out an approximation of the FA Cup from a cardboard box, covered it in tinfoil and taken it to the ground to wave around.
Next up, here’s Saint and Greavsie talking utter, utter bollocks for half an hour, but having such a good time while they do it, you can’t help but smile along with them.
What’s that? The buses have left the hotels? STOP EVERYTHING! THE BUSES HAVE LEFT THE HOTELS! So now we cut to a helicopter shot of a coach pulling out of some three star rep’s hotel, the excitement, they’re on their way! Then you realise you’re just watching footage of a bus with outriders driving down an A road into north London, but it doesn’t matter, it’s all part of the event.
Then we have the interviews with the club legends and sleb fans on the balcony overlooking the route down Wembley Way to the tube station. A river of colour, never any trouble. The legend remembers cup finals past, obligatory name check for Stanley Matthews in 1953 against Bolton, while the sleb demonstrates that s/he isn’t quite the fan that they claim to be, but hell, ITV’s bunged them thirty quid and a ticket so they make a bit of an effort.
Then, THE BUSES ARE HERE! We see them rolling in through the huge wooden doors that the old Wembley used to have, while a collection of pasty white youths in ill fitting Burton’s suits file off into the dressing rooms, no stylish foreigners here, no outsize headphones and good tailoring, this is the 80′s.
We now see them, still in their civvies, going out to walk the pitch! It is ridiculous, they’re professional footballers, they know what a football pitch looks like, half of them play for England, they’re there a dozen times a year. It doesn’t matter that it’s stupid, because it is all part of the event.
Then we get the team news, to the pundits sat in the box doubling as the studio as an earnest debate goes on about the selections, mandatory question about the one guy who’s had a good few weeks, but has now been dropped, how’s he feeling (how do you think he’s bloody feeling? This is the sodding Cup Final!)?
Finally, ten to three, the crowd sing Abide With Me. Lord knows why, but it’s not a bad old tune, and everyone joins in. Nice bit of community singing. No need for American style square bashing and jets flying overhead as they’re mixed with an image of Old Glory fluttering in the breeze. No, this is Wembley, hot greasy gristly pies and a bloke pissing down the rolled up newspaper in your pocket.
Then the players come out, and take the ridiculously long walk across the pitch from behind the goal to the halfway line. National Anthem, and then the presentation to the minor Royal. Some things never change, and this one won’t.
Finally, finally, we get to three pm and the game can kick off. And the pitch looks huge, and it’s always, always, a beautiful sunny day.
All of it, every last bit, was a bit of my childhood. The sheer excitement and eventness (is that a word? It is now!) seems to have gone now. Sure we have more than six matches a year on TV now, and the cash that has brought has undoubtedly improved the standard of footballer and football on offer, it has brought about improved conditions for players and fans, but somewhere along the road football has lost its soul.
Today the Cup Final kicks off at quarter past five, and there’s a bloody league match on before it. It just doesn’t seem right.
The magic is dying. It makes me sad.